Watching The Kashmir Files is a catharsis for young Kashmiris. For elders and seniors, it is possibly a closure, a sense of drained peace with themselves.
I came face to face with the Kashmir issue in a real sense around 2003-04 when RSS began a fresh exercise to educate people about the real issues in Jammu and Kashmir. Before that, we were made aware from 1986 through various RSS resolutions about the grim situation of Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley. From 2003 I researched and read the material on Kashmir that was hitherto not available in mainstream media and history books. I read about the glorious Hindu heritage of Kashmir, the fountainhead of knowledge, spirituality and arts, and the change of demographics from a Hindu region to a Muslim-majority society.
I argued on TV, gave lectures and wrote articles to present the Kashmiri Hindu side of the story: The tragedy of women under the Jammu and Kashmir Citizenship Act; the Hindus, mostly SC/ST, faced hardships for 70 years because they ended up in Jammu Kashmir and not in Punjab or Delhi; the Gorkhas; the sweepers from Kashmir, etc. I noted how Salafism from Saudi Arabia entered the Valley in 1975 and killed the so-called spirit of Kashmiriyat. I talked about ‘radicalisation’, the morphing of autonomy argument into an argument for an Islamic state. When I spoke of “Ralive, Tsalive, Galive”, many Kashmiri brethren were deeply moved, reliving their moments of horror.
I met Kashmiri brethren who had already settled down into a new life with hard work. I met Professor BL Zutshi who had personally seen the “List” of Kashmiri Hindus who were to be executed by people who were his students once. When he asked why his name was not there, the terrorists told him, “Sir, we need you for teaching and we may name you in the new ministry of Azad Kashmir!”
The next closer encounter was for the research for my Ph.D. thesis for which I had chosen three regions of conflict where RSS had done a lot of work to resolve the conflicts. The regions were Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the North East. I had interactions with the RSS workers who were in the Valley till the end and had tried their best to fight separatism. I heard the story of their grim situation, separation of families, cruelties and violence. I talked with scholars like KN Pandita and Prof Hari Om to get a sense beyond the available material. I went through the dilly-dallying and directionless approach of the clueless governments of the day to the problem of Jammu-Kashmir, the tragedy of Hindus displaced in their own country. The irony of one lakh security personnel being just a few miles away from major acts of genocide who were not asked to rush out and save their countrymen disturbed me immensely.
However, nothing prepares you to witness what you heard about, what you wrote about. Nothing. Your years of anger, your frustration about gross injustice to Kashmiri Hindus turns into a shattering emotional upheaval when you actually witness the history on the screen. The sheer helplessness of the victims breaks you. If this is the impact on a person who has consciously worked for seeking justice for Kashmiri Hindus, you can imagine the impact it would have on an average citizen who has been fed on the myth of minority persecution (in a state with a 98 percent Muslim population), of state atrocities and Kashmiri Hindus leaving Kashmir on their own volition under the guidance of the then governor Jagmohan. Think of the years of insulting attitudes of the politicians and the judiciary rubbing salts into the deep wounds of our Kashmiri brethren.
Imagine young men and women who were children then and had very faded memories of what happened to their parents and their relatives. Think how they were kept in the dark by the government, the great intellectuals, the secular politicians, and even their own parents to protect them from mental trauma. Watching The Kashmir Files is a catharsis for them and for us as a society. For senior Kashmiris, it is possibly a closure, a sense of drained peace with themselves.
I had heard that Vivek Agnihotri was making a film on the topic. I wondered how he would weave together the story of thousands of families; how would he speak out the truth in a world of make-believe dominated by the masala movie makers who do their sajda to the farce of secularism every now and then. How would he compete with filmmakers who use tragedies as pegs to hang their love stories and normalise the violence and violation of human dignity? I must congratulate Vivek Agnihotri for writing a story with a few characters who reflect multiple stories of the violated community so well. He has been able to tell the story under three hours that has personal tragedies, social horror and political chicanery.
Many people are accusing the filmmaker of exploiting a tragedy. They should be thankful that the writer-director actually compressed multiple heart-rending violent sequences into short bursts so you have time to breathe and not get choked with the overwhelming sense of helplessness of the sufferers. I would commend the director and screenplay writer to control the urge to milk the tragedy. When you go through the film, you will realise that extreme graphic violence has been given the least screen time.
The use of the Kashmir language creates the right ambiance. The soulful rendering of the Kashmiri song in the background moves you immensely. Music enhances the atmosphere without making itself heard. The dialogues are hard-hitting and also sensitive. “Sarkar unki hai to kya, system to hamara hai” — the professor tells the confused student leader. Photography is excellent and captures the atmosphere and the mood of the film very well.
The speech by the young protagonist may look long to many but the writer has been able to encapsulate the entire history of Kashmir in those few minutes. The story is so well researched and the last piece de resistance is so authentic that no historian or intellectual can punch any holes in it. I can vouch for it. The screenplay doesn’t caricature the leftist professor in JNU, it faithfully reproduces the Left arguments, thus giving the audience a chance to decide what is wrong or right in the Kashmir narrative.
Vivek Agnihotri has taken a huge risk in exposing the media. But he doesn’t lose objectivity. So, when the TV anchor plays on both sides, you don’t condemn him, you empathise with him for his predicament.
Each and every actor, from veteran Anupam Kher to young Darshan Kumar, has put his heart and soul into the film. Of course, Anupam Kher has lived the character, not acted. Bhasha Sumbli represents the violated Kashmiri woman, her pain, her helplessness in every sense. She leaves you shattered. These two actors may not have slept easily for days after these performances. Playing a negative character is one thing, but to play a character whose ideology is totally disagreeable to you is not easy. Pallavi Joshi has done it with elan. Her song resonates with you. To convince an actor who has played the role of Shivaji, to play the role of an Islamist terrorist too is a coup of sorts for the casting director. Chinmay Mandlekar has done full justice to the character influenced by Yasin Malik’s depravity.
Veterans like Mithun Chakraborty, Mrinal Kulkarni, Puneet Issar, Atul Srivastava and Prakash Belawadi have put life into the film with their performances. One must salute the Kashmiri Hindus who worked voluntarily in the film, reliving the horrific days after 30 years, that they wished to wipe out of their memories. It requires huge courage.
We as a society owe our gratitude to Vivek Agnihotri and his team for daring to make a film that flies against the set secular, illiberal narrative. He has shown great courage to take on the ideological terrorists, as he called them in 2014 when he understood their true games. It is not easy to survive in the Hindi film industry by making enemies with ‘secular’ filmmakers, the purveyors of depravity in the name of modernity. We are aware of many writers, poets, actors being ‘cancelled’ by the Left-secular lobby financed by people with dubious connections. But Vivek Agnihotri and his team have shown the chutzpah to stand up and fight it out. May their tribe increase. Yes, “Hum Dekhenge”.
The writer is a well-known author and columnist. He has written seven books on RSS and done his PhD on RSS. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.